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Saturday, 1 December, 2001, 05:06 GMT
Museums 'no longer special treats'
A young visitor enjoys the robot dinosaurs exhibit
The Natural History Museum is among those now free
Thousands of visitors were expected at Britain's top museums over the weekend as entrance fees are scrapped.

It is hoped the move will encourage a dramatic rise in attendance, with trips to museums no longer regarded as "special treats".

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said: "People of all ages and backgrounds will be able to visit our most important permanent collections and see them free of charge."

Among the museums now free to visit are the National History Museum, the Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Imperial War Museum and the National Maritime Museum in London.

Entrance charges have also been scrapped at attractions including the Royal Armouries in Leeds, the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside and the National Railway Museum in York.

'Red letter day'

The decision to introduce free entry follows tax changes in the last Budget - which allow free museums to reclaim VAT.

This is surely in the spirit of those who founded the great collections

Tessa Jowell
Culture Secretary
The move, is the final stage in the government's scheme to introduce universal free admission to museums in Britain.

In Wales, leading museums and galleries scrapped admission charges in April, and the Scottish Executive also cut some entrance fees earlier this year.

Ms Jowell described the change as "a red letter day for our cultural heritage".

She said: "Not only will this represent a considerable financial saving for the average family, it will also open up our museums to a potentially far greater number of visitors."

Ms Jowell, who was launching free entry at the Science Museum, added: "This is surely in the spirit of those who founded the great collections."

Disabled access

Natural History Museum
London's Natural History Museum

As a further incentive museums and galleries sponsored by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport will be given an extra 10m investment to help fund capital projects such as disabled access, Ms Jowell announced.

Many of the museums had already offered free access to children and the over 60s. This has boosted visited numbers by nearly 20% for children and the by 40% for the over 60s.

Sir Neil Chalmers, director of the Natural History Museum said: "I welcome the government's emphasis on widening access for visitors to museums, and am keen to continue attracting as diverse a mix of visitors as possible."

See also:

30 Nov 01 | Arts
Behind the museum doors
08 Nov 01 | Arts
Museums turn on government
07 Mar 01 | Budget 2001
Museums and galleries will be free
01 Apr 01 | Wales
Museums launch free entry
03 Apr 00 | UK
Museum visits for 1
23 Nov 01 | Newsmakers
The V & A: Designer makeover
30 Mar 01 | Scotland
Museums scrap entrance charges
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